“Some are saying that Messi is better than Pele.
“Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn’t yet. He has more experience.” (Daily Mail)
Are those wise words from Pele or merely the ramblings of a man who refers to himself in the third person? Regardless, this statement serves only to highlight the euphoria that surrounds the next big thing from Brazil. At 20 years of age Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is already a global superstar, praised for his astounding trickery and penchant for the spectacular. He is adored by millions, followed wherever he goes and is touted as the boy who can reinstate his country as the best in the world. The future looks extremely bright but have we all been blinded by the hype of the media spotlight?
Last night Neymar returned to Brazil – naturally via a private jet – to inspire Santos to a 3-1 victory over Figueirense and once again personally ignite their Championship bid. A silver medal at the recent London Olympics may seem like a success on the surface but the tournament was ultimately a disappointment. Brazil were heavy favourites to win the competition outright, with Neymar expected to lead the charge but an inspired Mexico side shocked everyone inside Wembley stadium. The level of anticipation bordered on the surreal and many would argue that the young forward was a bigger attraction for fans rather than the prospect of watching Team GB.
Despite this slight setback his reputation continues to grow and his performances against Belarus and Egypt highlighted his ability to win matches almost single-handedly. The speculation surrounding his future will undoubtedly reach fever pitch over the next year, with supporters eager to see Neymar strut his stuff on the European circuit. Would he flourish in the Premier League? I have my doubts but I would love to see him try.
At present only Manchester City and Chelsea appear capable of providing the financial muscle needed to compete for his signature. PSG recently set the benchmark for the next generation of Brazilian stars when they acquired 19-year-old Lucas Moura for an eye-watering £35m. This summer has also seen Roberto Di Matteo or rather Roman Abramovich sign Neymar’s international team-mate Oscar for a reported £25m. Oscar’s ability to adapt and succeed in the Premier League will surely influence any future purchases of Brazilian ‘wonderkids’.
When Neymar stepped out onto the pitch at the Riverside Stadium in the pre-tournament friendly with Team GB, he received his first taste of a hostile crowd on English soil. The jeers and whistles are a common feature up and down a Saturday afternoon and although he would have experienced a similar atmosphere in South America, it is unlikely to have been a result at his play-acting antics. He appeared a little surprised as each touch was greeted with a chorus of boos – nowhere near the torrent of abuse received by the likes of Joey Barton – but remained composed enough to score his penalty and ease Brazil to a 2-0 victory.
Another factor he would have to contend with if he arrived in England would be the British press and their ability to condemn your performance or actions with the weight of a ton of bricks. However, a recent feature in FourFourTwo revealed that Neymar is already accustomed to life in the headlines and if anything, the reports in Brazil are even more obscure and dramatised. He attracts attention further with his string of wealthy sponsorship deals, which account for almost three-quarts of his wage packet (Reuters). Neymar may well already generate a significant slice of income but it’s common knowledge that his father handles his finances and still gives his son an ‘allowance’. This strikes me as an incredibly endearing quality, especially given the stereotypical view of a young generation driven solely by personal greed.
The Premier League has already witnessed the arrival of a highly-rated Brazilian in a big money transfer. In many ways Robinho and Neymar are alike, incredibly quick, gifted on the ball with an eye for goal that can reduce a defender to tears. Robinho emerged on deadline day in 2008 as Manchester City’s statement of intent under their new ownership. However, the honeymoon period was cut short with the Brazilian flickering in and out of games like a candle in the wind. It soon became apparent that Robinho couldn’t settle in Manchester – a growing trend it would seem – and he certainly struggled when the winter months crept up on him. Perhaps the same fate would await Neymar if he ever decided to relocate to Manchester.
The community shield revealed that another high-profile figure in the form of Eden Hazard will have to adapt quickly if he is to justify his extravagant transfer fee. The former Lille playmaker was taunted for his desire to go to ground easily and capped off an uninspiring debut when an attempted backheel left him kissing the turf. Hazard struggled to find room when he was tightly marked – a trait even Pele admits often hampers Neymar – whilst he continually suppressed Ashley Cole when he refused to track back, another familiar trait of Brazilian attackers.
Neymar insists that his main objective on the pitch is ‘to entertain’ but we’re all well aware that winning comes first in English football. Chelsea may have attracted criticism for the manner in which they conquered Europe but these petty remarks are already forgotten and yet the trophy will always remain in their cabinet. Perhaps the question we should be asking isn’t whether Neymar is suited to the Premier League but whether the Premier League is suited to Neymar? I worry that he would always long for a move to La Liga, where the intensity of play is somewhat sedated in comparison and the ideals of gamesmanship encouraged rather than ridiculed.
The simple fact is that everybody has their own opinion of Neymar, he’s either football’s messiah or a spoiled brat hoisted on top of a pedestal by sensationalist tabloid reporting. There is also debate surrounding whether he should flee to Europe is search of a new, tougher challenge or hone his skills in Brazil ahead of the World Cup in 2014.
In my opinion the attack-minded Brazilian players always struggle when competing against the ‘British Bulldog spirit’ installed in our homegrown players. Elano, Robinho and Julio Baptista are just three players to have left with the tail between their legs whereas Lucas, Sandro and Ramires look destined for a long and illustrious career on our shores. There’s no denying his talent and he would indeed be the diamond in the rough at any game at the Britannia stadium but at present, I am convinced Neymar would spend more time on the floor than on the scoreboard in the Premier League.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I am struggling to accurately count the number of sponsors on Neymar’s shirt.